Mid-spring is here at CEF and like our bird companions we're in full nesting mode.
Mulching, in theory, should be done at the start of the season, but sometimes the season moves really fast. Spring season is one of those times. By mid-spring, as you're peering over the garden inspecting the results of the spring planting, suddenly you realize it's time to get back to the grind and finish the job with a generous helping of mulch.
This season we're mulching it up with some after-market, slightly fermented, un-sprayed hay, autumn leaves, wood chips and garden variety brown paper as a weed mat under the mulch in the aisles. It has taken us a couple of years to develop our system, as we are feeling great about mulch our approach to mulch the time around!
For us, mulching is more than weed control; much, much more. Mulching is the key to promoting and maintaining a thriving eco-system in the soil beds. Mulching strengthens the plant's root system and nutrient uptake; here's how. Mulch, which is essentially decaying carbon, is a food source for microorganisms and encourages ideal soil structure by protecting it from the effects of harsh sun and heavy rains. It holds in moisture and prevents compaction and oversaturation. Good soil structure provides the most essentail needs for micororganisms to survive: air and water.
What is Ideal soil structure? Think porosity, think hydrated and breathing. When a soil is too soggy or too dry or too compacted, microorganisms don't have the proper balance of air and water and don't thrive. Meanwhile, Plants exchange sugars they make through photosynthesis to the soil microorganisms in exchange for essential and trace minerals. Adequate minerals make for a robust immune system. So, the better housing you can provide for microorganisms, the larger and more diverse the population, the better mineral supply chain your plants have access to, and the plants are more likely to be naturally healthy. Aside from supporting soil health, of course, mulching really does help control the wild 'weeds' and make the garden lower maintenance once set up. And lets face it, if you have ever cared for land on any scale, anything that minimizes the over-all work load is awesome.
Here in Balsam mid-spring can be a reminder, especially on those hot spring days, to get finished quickly with the mulching before the Solstice arrives.
Slicing tomatoes are just that; perfect eaten as slices, perhaps with a tiny bit of salt sprinkled on them. Add to a sandwich or serve as an appetizer with some cheese and herbs atop.
Eat by them selves or cut up and put in any type of salad. Cherries tend to be sweet and flavorful.
Paste tomatoes are great for cooking. They are less watery and retain their texture longer when cooked. These are the tomatoes to use to make something like ratatouille. Also great roasted.
Tomatillos: Raw tomatillos are sour, sweet and bitter. They make a an excellent green salsa (salsa verde), which is how I've primarily eaten them in the past. This past week we've been putting them in almost every cooked dish and the taste they add is amazing! A really simple thing you can do with them is chop them and saute them up with onions and peppers (hot or bell), and serve as a topping to meat such as burgers, chicken, steak, or veggie burgers or portabella mushrooms. We've been making a lot of sautes that involve onions, pattipan or zucchini, tomatillos and peppers and having that for lunch with rice and beans. Our Wwoofer cooked up and awesome chili with adzuki beans, tomatillo, onion, and peppers, spiced with coriander, all spice, chili powder, cinnamon, worschestire sauce, and salt.
Peppers: A bit of hot pepper can really bring out good flavors in a dish without making it too spicy if you use a small enough amount. We've been picking all our peppers green and small to encourage the plants to grow. After this picking we're going to let the pepper fruits grow and ripen out reds, yellows, and browns. I tried to keep the spicy peppers separate from the non spicy ones in the box. The long thin ones are Green Cayenne and are the most hot. Use only 1/3 of one in a dish and discard the seeds if you are sensitive to heat. The Green Chimayo is the fatter pepper grouped with the cayenne. This is a New Mexican Chili and has a bit of heat but it doesn't last long. It would pair well with tomatillos in a cooked dish. Then there are small Green Bells. Lastly, some boxes also got a dark green poblano-type. These have a very faint heat to them. I imagine its not noticeable when in a dish, its barely noticeable raw.
Do not put your pepper seeds in the soup stock bag unless you want really spicy soup. Haha, I know this from experience.
The garden is looking really nice. We've had a WWOOFER staying with us for the past few weeks and he's really helped us get so much done. In the foreground we have our first Milpa or three sisters experiment planted. We have three types of corn in there, one a rainbow sweet corn, one a rainbow popcorn, and one a rainbow flour corn. The squash is mostly butternut and Styrian Hulless, a pumpkin with hull-less pumpkin seeds that are very delicious. The beans are cranberry beans and fort portal jade beans, a dried bean that is green. We've especially enjoying watching this part of the garden grow.
What is Holy Basil and what can I do with it?
Holy basil, also known as Tulsi, is a great herb. Holy basil is a basil, and in India where it is native, it grows into huge perennial shrubs. Here we grow it as an annual, as it does not survive frost. It is a gentle yet powerful herb that is safe for everyone and helps the body process stress and return to equilibrium. People find it uplifting and grounding. It is also soothing to the digestion especially after eating too big of a meal, like at a holiday party of barbecue.
Holy Basil makes an awesome tea, served hot or cold. You can make the tea with fresh herb or you can dry the herb and enjoy the tea later on. Put a sprig or two in a tea pot or jar and pour hot water on it. Steep for 5 minutes or longer, and enjoy. You can not over-steep this herb. It can steep for hours and the flavor will only become more dark.
Also, Lasagna!! Holy Basil in Lasagna is Amazing!!! It can go in any Italian dish you would add basil to, but I think it is particularly tasty with the ricotta cheese that tends to end up in lasagna. I usually make vegetarian lasagna, with lots of summer squash/zucchini in it. The Beet Leaves would also be really tasty in said lasagna.
Holy basil also goes well with beets! Wash beets, peel if desired, chop into cubes. Steam with a bit of apple cider vinegar in the water, until tender. Put into a bowl. Finely chop the holy basil, and add to beets with some oilve oil and salt. Add feta cheese if desired. Serve as a side dish on its own, or as a topping on arugula salad. Add balsamic vinegar if more sour is needed.
Making the most of your box
Don't forget to eat your beet greens! They taste very similar to Swiss Chard. For prolonged storage, remove beet greens immediately and store the beets and the greens seperately in the refrigerator.
Box#7 July 15th & July 19th
The truth is we've been eating a lot of veggies raw or in some sort of salad, or very lightly steamed in a bit of water with butter and salt.
In light of that, I'll share with you the yummy salad dressing I made today.
I didn't measure any of this and I encourage you to approximate too.
1/4 cup sesame oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, 2 tablespoons tamari/soy sauce, 2 tablespoons tahini, lions mane mushroom powder, and finely chopped garlic. Stir well or shake and serve. Lions mane mushroom powder is definitely optional but it adds a savory mushroom flavor and is very nourishing to the nervous system. We keep it on our spice rack and add it to many dishes for its healing properties.
Remember that carrot tops make good soup stock! :)
Box 6 July 8th and July 12th
Pardon the lateness here, we've had a lot going on from family visits to FINALLY getting all the Garlic out of the ground!! On Sunday we had a few friends over and we dug up all thirteen rows of garlic. Now its happily curing in the barn.
What about those carrot tops??
They add a great flavor to soup stock!! Also small amounts can be chopped and sauteed. After writing about fermenting, I'm feeling inspired to try fermenting some, I'll keep you posted if it turns out well.
Box # 5 June 31st & July 5th
Finally some new tasties are coming to the table! They're not coming on too fast yet so this week each box includes an assortment of zucchini and patty-pan summer squash, dragon's egg cucumbers, and armenian cucumbers. Each box has at least one cucumber and one squash. Our cabbages have been coming in too. We're very pleased to have fresh cabbage around. The other night we made burgers and used cabbage leaves as the bun/wrapper. Very delicious and they contained the burger + condiments well.
This Weeks Box Includes:
a medium bag of lettuce
a green cabbage
a small radish bunch
a bunch of parsley
Some cooking ideas
I'd like to report that one of Sequoia's favorite foods lately has been kohlrabi. I peel it, cut it into chunks or strips (think ether home fries or french fries), and bake it at 400 until soft. You could also cut up beets/turnips/radishes/potatoes/sweet potatoes/carrots and roast with the kohlrabi in a similar fashion. You could leave them plain or toss in a bit of olive oil with salt and any other spices first before roasting. While roasting, it is best to open the oven at least once to stir them around so they roast easily
Another thought for this week's box is coleslaw! I haven't gotten to making any yet since the cabbages have been coming in, but I fully intend to make one with shredded cabbage, peeled then shredded kohlrabi, and shredded radishes (sounds like a good combo for a lacto-ferment/sauerkraut too!). I'm not strict about whether coleslaw should be vinegar based or mayo based, and I think this combo would be tasty with both. I'm thinking red wine vinegar and tarragon would make a nice seasoning to it. Or sesame oil and rice vinegar, topped with sesame seeds. I always try to make a coleslaw at least a few hours before I intend to eat it (or the day before), as the flavor of the dish really improves if it allowed to marinate. I'm not always so well timed though and its fine to just make and eat too.
Or, if coleslaw isn't your thing, this box would make a nice tabhooli-like salad. Diced cucumbers, sliced radishes, diced kohlrabi, and finely chopped parsley all tossed in some type of cooked grain (bulger wheat, quinoa, millet) with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and a pinch of cumin. You could also add chopped onions or garlic to this too.
Orrrr, cabbage and summer squash go really nicely sauteed up with some onions in pasta sauce. And finely chopped parsley goes well in hamburgers. Lots of possibilities!
Whether its cabbage "buns" or cabbage slaw, We hope you enjoy barbecue season!!
Box #4 6/24 & 6/28
We are very happy to see that a measure as simple as keeping beds covered with thin row cover can provide such nice results in insect control! Now we just need to get another bed seeded so there is plenty to go around! If you're ever trying this in your home garden, beds need to be covered immediately after seeding, before beetles have found the tender sprouts to munch upon.
Peas: We did not grow these peas. Justin was over at our other field that we're leasing and talking to the owners, who are mostly home gardeners but grow a little extra of some things. They have a bounty of Sweet Peas, and we had a crop failure of sweet peas (sad, but true).
There may be other occasions this summer that we add in produce grown by a farmer/gardener friend of ours whose practices we agree with, if they have a bounty of something that we either didn't grow or had problems growing. We'll let you know if that is the case. Enjoy the sweet crunch!
If you are someone who usually picks up on Wednesday, you know that you already got peas because we wanted to get them to you before they went out of season. This week you'll have something else in your box other than peas.
Today we harvested a few cabbages, a few cucumbers, and a few zucchinis. Surely by next week there will be at least one of those in quantity to put in boxes. This will be the last cilantro for a little wile as this bed is going to seed and our next is just barely planted.
Recipe Idea: Arugula Oregano Pesto
Arugula is pretty versatile and easy to eat up fresh or thrown in at the end of a saute. But if you're looking for some inspiration, this is tasty! I use a food processor to make pesto, but you could mince it all by hand if you don't have a food processor and do have a lot of patience.
Put 2-5 cloves of garlic in the food processor with about 2/3 cup nuts and about 1/3 cup olive oil, and 1/4 tea. salt. Blend until well chopped. I often use sunflower seeds because they are affordable, yummy, and fairly neutral. You could also use walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, brasil nuts, or any nut that you think would taste good in this recipe.
Open food processor and add: whole bag of arugula, oregano leaves stripped from 2-4 stalks of oregano (depending on how strongly oregano flavored you'd like it), and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Blend again until smooth and scoop into a bowl.
Mix in grated Parmesan or crumbled feta if you would like to add cheese to the pesto. I sometimes add cheese and sometimes do not.
Pesto goes well in pasta, as a dip, or on pizza.
If you're like me and love pizza but need a crust recipe that works well try this one from King Arthur called "The Easiest Pizza You'll Ever Make". It works great over here. When it says 2 tablespoons "pizza dough flavor", just use 1.5 tablespoon garlic powder and .5 tablespoon onion powder, or nothing at all if you don't have it around
Highlight on Oregano
To use fresh oregano, the leaves first need to be stripped off the stalks. You can also dry the oregano. It is easier to leave it on the stalks to dry, then once dry hold over a bowl and the leaves crunch off the stalks very easily. Delicious fresh or dry in salads, pastas, beans, meats/marinades, and salsas. You can also infuse it in either apple cider vinegar or in olive oil.
Like many culinary herbs, oregano is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. It soothes digestion and relaxes the nervous system, which also encourages good digestion. Cuisines of all cultures include culinary herbs not only for flavor but because herbs make our food safer to eat by acting against pathogens that can enter our body with food and because they aid in the digestion process.
Oregano is also clearing to the lungs and makes a nice tea for respiratory congestion and immune support. Its anti-spasmodic properties make it calming to a cough too.
Enjoy adding oregano to your food this week!
Box 3: 6/17 & 6/21
Baby goats are growing and are either frolicking around like popcorn or are cuddled up sleeping. If you want to come visit baby goats, you're welcome to get in touch and come over sometime we're home! As our days grow closer to the Summer Solstice (this Wednesday, the 21st) many new foods are on the verge of coming into fruition. Take a look:
In the How to Use a Kohlrabi:
How you can fit kohlrabi into a dish you already prepare.
Kohlrabi is in the brassica family and is thus a relative of kale, cabbage, cauliflower, mustards, turnips, radishes, and more. Both the leaves and bulb are yummy to eat, but the leaves will not stay fresh if you leave them on the bulb. When you get your kohlrabi home, the first thing to do is cut off the leaves and store them in your refrigerator separate from the bulb. The leaves are eaten in the same ways you'd prepare collard greens or kale.
The Bulb: The bulb is crisp and sweet. It tastes a bit like a turnip, but what it tastes most like is the delicious inner of a broccoli stem when you peel it. The kohlrabi bulb does not need to be peeled, but many people prefer it peeled. The peel is more fibrous than the rest of the bulb and is slightly more bitter in flavor. If you do decide to peel, use a paring knife and not a vegetable peeler. In the picture above, I peeled the kohlrabi then sliced it into matchsticks. This particular one I ate raw as a taco topping, however this preparation is also very nice to add to a stir-fry. The bulb can be shredded and mixed into many different salads, from green salad, to carrot salad, to coleslaw. Shredded bulb can also be mixed with shredded potatoes or sweet potatoes for some delicious hash browns. The bulb can be cut into wedges and lightly fired in a high heat oil for "fries." Likewise it can be cut into wedges or chunks and roasted in the oven with other root veggies. The sweetness really comes out when roasted. Topped with a parsley cream sauce, perhaps?
Dried thyme Fresh Thyme:
Fresh thyme makes Italian themed dishes pop with flavor and is also great with any type of meat and many types of fish. The flowering tops of the thyme plant can be chopped up and do not need the stems removed before eating. Toward the bottom of the bunch the stems get woody and you'll need to strip the leaves off the stem before eating.
If this is more thyme than you can use in a week, no worries! simple hang the remainder by the rubberband and let dry. In a week or two you'll have dried thyme which you'll strip off the stalks before using. Dried thyme can be stored in a jar either stripped from the stalks or on them until use. I've been enjoying dried thyme sprinkled on top of a fried duck egg along with smoked paprika. Dried thyme also goes well in an immune supporting herbal tea.
Needing some parsley inspiration? Think tabouli. Cook a medium sized pot of any of the following grains: bulger wheat, quinoa, millet, or couscous. Chop entire bunch of parsley finely. Mix grain and parsley together in bowl. Add Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, and Salt. Add all or none of the following: Chopped fresh tomato or dried tomatoes, chopped cucumber, chopped red or sweet onion, and crumbled feta cheese
Making the most of you box:
-If you do decide to peel the Kohlrabi, the peelings can go in the soup stock bag.
-Don't forget to eat the leaves!
Box #2 5/10 & 5/14
Firstly, Baby goats came yesterday afternoon as we were finishing up the harvest.
Goat kidding and full moons (6/9) go hand in hand. I noticed mama goat Chestnut had been hanging out in the barn for several hours. I had the sense she was getting close, but assumed she would start getting loud (as many goats do) when the birth was eminent. I went to check on her, and behold, three wet wobbly-legged babies! The births had had happened no more than 30 minutes prior. Everyone on the farm stopped for a bit to bask in the wonder of new life, and I hung out with them for awhile to make sure all the kids had achieved a good latch. The cream one and the black one with all white ears are males, and the black one with black and white ears is female.
Its been a productive and busy week over here. Have you ever heard of the WWOOF program?
"Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA, is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices."
WWOOFers generally work 5 hour days on farms in exchange for food, education, and a place to stay. This week we have hosted our second WWOOFING couple. Both duos we've hosted so far have been really awesome younger folx traveling the country. Its really nice to have the extra help. Also Justin and I were both more of the ramblin' travelin' types through our 20's, so hosting WWOOFers brings to the farm the fun element of travel and meeting new people.
Food prep idea of the week: Cilantro Cream Sauce
We made a batch of of cilantro cream sauce this week to eat with tacos and it was so yummy we ate all of it up the next day ontop of lunch and dinner. This is easiest to do in a food processor. First roughly chop 3 garlic scapes and 1 bunch of cilantro, then add to the food processor with 1 tablespoon olive oil and blend. Next add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, and a pint of sour cream or greek yoghurt and blend some more. Taste and add more salt ot lime juice as needed. You could also add jalapeno or chili powder for some heat, and cumin, corriander, or ginger for a more complex flavor.
When you first make it it will be kind of runny, but as it chills in the fridge its texture thickend up.
Making the most of your box:
Cilantro, parsley, and garlic scape ends also make excellent additions to the soup stock bag!